“The wider world of what could be sexual harassment is not fully understood.” So says one of nearly 3000 students who were engaged in the ‘Wanna spoon?’ student voice research project.
In 2018, the phrase ‘Wanna spoon? Ask first!’ appeared on screens, stickers, lanyards, but most notably through pop-ups at UTS’s most-attended student events, including O’Day, Summerfest and the Night Owl noodle markets. And to make matters sweeter, free ice-cream was served.
Students were encouraged to ask for their preferred ice cream flavour, including the dairy-free ‘zero-tolerance’ and ‘it takes two to mango’. But, beyond the sweet exterior, this project had a not-so-hidden agenda – it was a way for the UTS community to better understand the current student perspective on sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The issue was given national backing by the sector in 2016 at the launch of Universities Australia’s Respect.Now.Always. campaign. Then again a year later, when the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released their ‘Change the Course’ report. The latter revealed an unacceptable number of sexual violence incidents in our community.
Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs has since established the UTS Prevention of Sexual Assault and Harassment Working Group with staff and student representation. This group, recognising the importance of the student voice in this conversation, engaged our own experts in the Design Innovation Research Centre (DIRC) to identify opportunities for intervention. And, as DIRC Strategic Design Research Practitioner Bridget Malcolm says, to understand “what the problem behind the problem is”.
“While a quantitative survey, like the one by AHRC, can tell us about the number of incidents and where they occurred, it doesn’t tell us more about how people within the UTS community think and feel about this issue,” says Bridget.
DIRC’s research-led design practices enabled a deep-dive into the issue as it stands at UTS. Bridget explains: “Reframing is a core part of design practice and something that DIRC does really well. Rather than looking at the surface information of what we have found in research, we probe deeper.
“We often do this by looking at the values, themes and patterns that are present in the research and considering different ways to look at a problem. Like, what if we approached sexual assault and harassment not as a problem of consent, but as a symptom of power imbalance?
“We usually work with external partners, so this has been a great project to apply design practices to UTS,” adds Bridget. “It has helped us re-imagine the way that research can be done and how we can find playful ways to negotiate serious social challenges.”
So far, the research project has delivered 21 in-depth insights and five personas that are supporting sexual violence-related initiatives, which include centralised reporting, mandatory staff reporting and implementation of mandatory Consent Matters training.
“When we understand the experiences of others, we can define what behaviour is harmful and what is respectful, and work towards developing a culture in UTS where assault and harassment are not tolerated. Understanding experiences is also key in helping UTS design services and interactions that meet the needs of students seeking support.”
Staff and students should complete Consent Matters training now. Visit uts.ac/consent-matters
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